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Maryland men’s soccer vs. Ohio State preview

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The Terps look to bounce back with their home opener against the Buckeyes.

Sasho Cirovski, Maryland men’s soccer, 2019 NCAA Tournament Sarah Sopher / Testudo Times

Maryland men’s soccer (0-1) is back in action and ready to take on its second opponent of the season in Ohio State at home in College Park for the 2020-21 Terps’ home opener.

In the season opener against Penn State, Maryland surrendered three goals in the opening half and couldn’t overcome its deficit. The Terps improved in the second half and would eventually tack on two goals in the remaining 45 minutes, but couldn’t complete the comeback and fell 3-2.

“[We’re] very excited to play on Ludwig this Saturday, excited to play outdoors,” Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “And looking forward to getting off to a better start than we did against Penn State and looking forward to the game. We’ve had a good week of preparation.”

Maryland started its 10-game season on a sour note against the talented Nittany Lions, but it has a chance for a rebuttal performance against the Buckeyes at Ludwig Field.

“Ludwig’s my favorite place to play in all of college soccer,” sophomore midfielder Malcolm Johnston said. “Just because of the quality of grass, the atmosphere even without the fans, you just get that kind of vibe that it’s a very good place to play soccer.”

After the Terps face the Buckeyes, they head back on the road to play Rutgers on March 3, and then return home once again to challenge Wisconsin on March 7.

Saturday’s matchup with Ohio State begins at 2 p.m. and will air on X. Let’s take a look at what Maryland is up against in its second match of the new season.

Ohio State Buckeyes (0-1)

2019 record: 7-11-1 (1-6-1 Big Ten)

Head coach Brian Maisonneuve has been at the helm of the Buckeyes since April 2018 and is heading into his third season. Prior to becoming the head coach at Ohio State, Maisonneuve was the former associate head coach of the Indiana men’s soccer program and a former member of the U.S. National Team and Columbus Crew. Despite previous success in coaching, Maisonneuve’s tenure at Ohio State has been somewhat of a rocky road. In two full seasons as the head coach, he has led the Buckeyes to just an 8-26-3 overall record and a 1-13-2 Big Ten record. This season, Ohio State’s lone match was a 3-0 loss to Indiana on the road.

Players to know

Senior midfielder Matteo Bennati (No. 16) — Bennati is one of the Buckeyes’ most tenured players in the midfield and he’ll be a key factor for Ohio State, especially when looking at the tempo of play on the pitch. Last season, Bennati had the third-most goals on the Buckeyes and chipped in 26 attempted shots. Despite a quiet performance against Indiana on Tuesday in the shutout loss, Bennati will look to take a step in the right direction against Maryland. Look for the the Italian to be on the ball consistently in the midfield as he tries to guide the Buckeyes’ offense to its first goal of the 2021 season.

Freshman defender Thomas Gilej (No. 2) — Gilej took a major step in a positive direction in Ohio State’s game against Indiana. The 6-foot-3, 180 pound freshman may have just been the best player on the pitch for the Buckeyes with three shots on goal on four attempts. He’s able to perform well on the offensive end, and that makes him a dangerous player to look out for, especially on set pieces.

“Thomas has a high soccer IQ with the physical attributes to be an exceptional college soccer player,” Maisonneuve said. “With a 6-foot-3 frame, Thomas moves very well and has soft feet for a big man.”

Senior defender Joshua Jackson-Ketchup (No. 10) — Just like his teammate Bennati, Jackson-Ketchup was named to the Big Ten Coaches Players to Watch in 2021. The senior stands at just 5-foot-8, but he's a durable defenseman for the Buckeyes. He started in 19 games and collected 22 shot attempts in 2019. Jackson-Ketchup will surely be on the field often against the Terps, as he also played 90 or more minutes in 15 games for a grand total of 1,639 minutes in 2019. Look for the versatile defenseman to try to stop Martland’s offensive attack.

Strength

Midfield experience. Despite being projected towards the bottom half of the Big Ten, Ohio State has plenty of upperclassmen in the middle of the field. Highlighted by Bennati and Joe Ortiz, the Buckeyes have enough experience to dismantle good teams. It’s something Maryland should be on the lookout for during Saturday’s match.

Weakness

Goal scoring. Putting the ball in the back of the net may plague the Buckeyes for their 2020-21 season. Jack Holland, who led the team in points last season, graduated after last season. Devyn Etling, who scored a team-high six goals for Ohio State in 2019, was absent for their home opener and it is unknown if he will play against Maryland. The Terps struggled with defense in their first match, but might be facing a short-handed Buckeyes roster come Saturday.

Three things to watch

1. How quickly can Maryland rebound from its loss in the season opener? In a shortened season, each game seemingly has a greater importance added to it. The Terps collapsed in the first 35 minutes against the Nittany Lions last week, which basically eliminated their chances to collect a win in their first match of the new year.

“I do think one thing we did learn from the Penn State game is to make sure that we understand that we have to bring our own energy, we have to create the energy,” Cirovski said.

A good start against a middle-of-the-pack Ohio State team should solve some worries moving forward. However, if Maryland loses on Saturday and falls to an 0-2 record, it would make it that much harder in a shortened season to climb up the Big Ten standings.

2. Which youngster will offer their best performance? Against Penn State, it was the duo of Joe Suchecki and Jacen Russell-Rowe that came to play, as both freshmen found the back of the net for Maryland in the one-goal defeat. Suchecki delivered from the penalty spot and Russell-Rowe knocked in a screamer of a hit from what seemed to be 30 yards out. Maryland has plenty of young talents that can step up in any given game, and a name that stands out is Ben Bender. Bender quietly had a strong game against the Nittany Lions, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he offered a clean performance against the Buckeyes.

“All the freshmen have taken it very well,” Johnston said of how the freshman handled the Terps’ loss to open the season. “The freshmen are definitely going to have a big role in the incoming game, so I think they’re ready to take it head on and like I’ve said a million times I’m excited to see what they can do.”

3. How will Ben Di Rosa play in his final game for the Terps? The Wednesday before the Friday match against Penn State, Maryland received the news that defender Ben Di Rosa, who was taken as the No. 44 overall pick by New York City FC in the MLS SuperDraft, would be available for the Terps for the first two games of the season. That means this should mark the final game for Di Rosa as a Terp. It’ll be interesting to see how the long-tenured Maryland defender performs in what will likely be his finale in a Terps’ uniform.

“I think Ben’s a great leader, he definitely leads with his actions,” junior forward/midfielder Brayan Padilla said. “He’s there to work hard every single day and that’s the way he leads, I think that’s something that I’ve learned from him to be consistent every day.”